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There are good garages run by one or two mechanics, but they are generally so busy you can wait for days to get your car back.

There are large independent repair shops. They tend to be faster but more impersonal. You may find you are dealing with a different mechanic each time. And of course there are dealers and franchise operations. Generally people are more satisfied with independent garages.

Do your homework and ask around. Friends, neighbors, and other shops such as auto parts stores that do some auto work are good sources. I found a good mechanic by asking at my favorite tire store.

A good recommendation is not everything, however. A shop might do well with new American cars, but not so well with older foreign cars. Be sure to ask about the shop's specialty, or the kinds of cars it generally works on. Never accept the answer,"Oh, we work on just about everything."

Check out a shop with your local Better Business Bureau. How many complaints have been filed with the garage, how many resolved?

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It's hard to compare repair costs, unless it's for something major such as replacing a transmission. Generally you cannot predict exactly what will need to be done and therefore cannot compare prices. For most problems, you will simply have to trust your chosen mechanic.

However, for large predictable jobs and non-emergency work, it really pays to shop around. As usual get THREE estimates, in writing. You may be astounded at the difference in price. For example, when my wife bought a used Buick it needed a paint job and some body work. The estimates for the same job were $600, $1100, and $1500. We had it done for the lowest price and were quite pleased.

Here are some of jobs you may be able to plan for: a major transmission job, rebuilding or replacing a motor, a complete brake job, a paint job, body work.

Check out the local community college or high school. They might repair your car for just the cost of parts at wholesale prices. While you may have to schedule months in advance and then wait for several weeks once it is in the shop, the savings can't be beat. Be sure to check out the credentials of the teacher. He will be directing and examining the work his students do.

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